Greenwich decks Staples
The rematch of last year's FCIAC boys tennis final could also have been a preview of this season's league final. That's the opinion the Greenwich and Staples boys tennis teams shared following Tuesday's showdown, and after watching the two rivals compete for nearly three hours, it would be difficult to disagree.
The Cardinals and Wreckers entered the much-anticipated match with a combined record of 20-0, so something had to give in this duel of the premier teams in the FCIAC, and state. Sweeping the singles matches, Greenwich left the courts with its perfect season intact.
Displaying their depth in singles play, the Cardinals registered a significant 5-2 league win over the visiting Wreckers in a match that was closer than the final score indicated.
"This was a very close match, the last two single matches were fights to the end," said Greenwich coach EJ Haskell, whose Cardinals are 9-0. "It was the way you want to see two real good teams play. We will see them again this season."
Tasaki clinched the match for the Cardinals, defeating Wreckers sophomore Baxter Stein, 6-2, 7-5 at fourth singles. A junior, Tasaki trailed 5-2 in the second set, but received a surge of energy from his teammates.
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"He was a real good player, but I wasn't playing my best and mentally, I was down," Tasaki said. "I was down 5-2, but my teammates cheering me on got me to think positively and I came back. Your mental game is so important in tennis."
Kratky, a senior co-captain, showcased his booming groundstrokes in recording a 6-2, 6-1 win against sophomore Jake Hirschberg at No. 1 singles. Leading 5-2 in the first set, Kratky closed out the set by hitting a blistering backhand winner.
"He is a real crafty player, so it was a real tight match," Kratky said. "Every game was tough and it was very important for me to play smart and play to his weaknesses."
Indeed, the match is one both teams mark their calendars each year.
"This is a big rivalry, so there was a lot of adrenaline in all of us before the match. Our singles guys pulled through today. I'm so proud of them."
Staples' victories came in doubles competition. The Wreckers No. 1 squad of Steve Thomson and Zach Levin capitalized on several key break points to upend Greenwich's CJ Purse and Mike Grund, 6-4, 6-4.
"We came into this match with the mindset that we can beat anyone because we are playing so well and are very confident," Thomson said. "It's always a lot of fun to play against Greenwich and hopefully, we'll see them again for the FCIAC title."
One of the most competitive matches of the afternoon came at No. 5 singles, where Greenwich's Ari Cepelewicz edged Connor Mitnick, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4). Trailing 6-5 in the third set, Cepelewicz held serve to force the tiebreaker.
"I was just hoping to get to the tiebreaker and once I got there I felt like I had some momentum," said Cepelewicz, a sophomore. "It feels good to come out with a win against a very strong team like Staples. Hopefully, this will give us confidence for the rest of the season."
Displaying his efficient inside-out forehand, Niehaus topped Staples freshman Josh Moskovitz, 6-0, 6-2 at third singles.
"I feel like my game has progressed a lot and today was my toughest match of the year so far," said Niehaus, a junior. "We have a history of having close matches with Staples and that's how it was today. Every match was intense -- it's always a lot of fun to compete against these guys. This match decides who will be the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC Tournament.
Niklaus, a junior, overcame some nerves to defeat Wreckers senior Graham Hyman, 6-2, 6-4 at No. 2 singles.
"This was my first time playing against Staples, so I was real nervous, but I was still focused out there and put everything together," Niklaus said. "The whole team cheering me on pumped me up."
"Overall, it was a competitive match," said Staples coach Kris Hrisovulos, whose Wreckers are 12-1 overall and 10-1 in the FCIAC. "We said on the bus before the match that it was about staying focused and finishing matches. For the most part, we finished our matches. A couple of points here, a couple of points there, and that's the difference in the match."
This is the Wreckers' first regular-season loss since 2009.
"Obviously, everything c"omes to an end," Hrisovulos said. "It was a good match, and I'm glad to finally play a Greenwich team in the regular season that's at full strength."
Hrisovulos hopes his team learns from the match and applies the lessons at FCIACs.
"We went in believing we can win, but we need to be able to finish matches," he said. "In some areas they are strong and in some areas they are weak, and we have to be able to attack their weaknesses."
Greenwich 5, Staples 2
Records: Greenwich 9-0, 9-0 FCIAC; Staples 12-1, 10-1 FCIAC
Singles: Tyler Kratky (G) def. Jake Hirscherg 6-2, 6-1; Zach Niklaus (G) def. Graham Hyman 6-2, 6-4; Blake Niehaus (G) def. Josh Moskovitz 6-0, 6-3; Tatsuya Tasaki (G) def. Baxter Stein 6-2, 7-5; Ari Cepele-wicz (G) def. Connor Mitnick 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4). Doubles: Steve Thomson/Zack Levin (S) def. Mike Grund/CJ Purse 6-4, 6-4; Evan Davis/Jack Reardon (S) def. Louis McKenzie/Shaw Speer 6-4, 6-4.